Things I’ve Noticed is back. After a one-week hiatus for this
journalist, game film expert, college student writing from home to take on Peyton’s Passes, I’m back to give you four things I observed about the pleasant surprise that is the Northwestern football team thus far. In honor of their uproariously positive start, we’re going strictly positive for all four things in this column.
Let’s get to it.
We need to talk about Brandon Joseph
I don’t mean to brag (well, I kind of do) but I just want to show you these tweets, sent during the end of the first and the beginning of the second quarter during the Maryland game (I’m ET for anyone who thinks the timestamps are suspicious).
Brandon Joseph has been sensational closing space in the open field— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) October 25, 2020
Brandon Joseph my goodness ...— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) October 25, 2020
Dude is straight up balling right now
Joseph’s praises were deservedly sung following his two critical interceptions in the second half comeback win over Iowa. But those who’ve been paying attention know that he’s been throwing absolute heaters in every aspect of the game to start this season.
His defense against runs and short passes should elicit audible yelps from anyone who appreciates downhill, smash-mouth safeties.
I legitimately felt bad for Maryland’s Jeshaun Jones on that play. What are you supposed to when that compact, 192-pound, heat-seeking missile comes flying at you as soon as you touch the ball?
One of the things I love most about this play is how Joseph slowly encroaches toward the line as Jones goes in motion. He knows what’s about to happen before the ball is even snapped. That’s special stuff right there, and I’ll throw an assist to the coaching staff on that one.
(I also thought it was funny to see this Terrapin lead-blocker eagerly sprint out to find his block, only to turn around and find his teammate getting wrecked in one of those it-was-at-this-moment-he-knew kind of scenes.)
I’ve noticed those slow, ominous steps as a trend of Joseph’s, almost an animal stalking its prey. In this play below, he nearly topples over while stalking forward, before a hard, low blow to the a Terrapin running back.
It’s important to remember that the safety we all expected to started alongside JR Pace this year — Travis Whillock — was a really good player in 2019. All-Big Ten honorable mention and 78 tackles is nothing to sneeze at.
That’s made the emergence of Joseph even more delightful. What many expected to be a potential weak spot for the ‘Cats following Whillock’s opt-out is now one of the team’s biggest strengths.
I’m not usually one for hot takes, but I’d put a lot of stock in Joseph becoming a superstar, and eventually, an NFL-level prospect.
Adetomiwa Adebawore has the speeeeeeeed
One of the few negatives surrounding the team thus far is the injuries and lack of experience along the defensive line. Prospects looked bleak heading into the season with Joe Gaziano’s graduation and Samdup Miller’s decision to opt out, and expectations only dimmed with early injuries to expected starter Trevor Kent and a solid rotational option in Jason Gold Jr.
The play of the entire unit has dipped, as it has only recorded two of the team’s three total sacks thus far. One of those belongs to Eku Leota, the other to the guy affectionately known as ‘Tomi’, the focus of this section.
Adebawore barely showed up in the box score at Kinnick, recording a single assisted tackle, according to CFB Reference. Yet, he still made what might have the most important defensive play of the game for the ‘Cats, save for the three interceptions.
Down 14-0, Iowa drew up a perfect play for its third touchdown of the game, likely putting the game out of reach before the end of the first quarter. A team historically known for its ability to maul teams up front in the run game opted for a play action, totally fooling the Northwestern defense. There are absolutely zero white jerseys within a five-yard radius of second-string tight end Shaun Breyer, who heads toward the corner pylon. Poor backup defensive end Devin O’Rourke gets left out to dry, backpedaling as he realized the pass catcher zoomed right by him, worried that an easy touchdown is imminently going to pop over his head.
Then Tomi bailed out the entire defense by gobbling up space at an absurd rate. I mean, it’s just silly that this didn’t turn into six points for the Hawkeyes.
I thought Adebawore would be a fine fill-in along the defensive front. I could not have told you he would make a game-altering play with his straight line burst. Absolutely delightful.
And trust me, this isn’t just a one play thing. Take his week one sack vs Maryland, where he dusts the left guard at the point of attack, then inhales Taulia Tagavailoa before he has a chance to escape the pocket.
He’s three or four yards away from Tagavailoa—who is a true dual-threat quarterback—once he has fully got his shoulders past the opposing lineman, yet still closes quickly enough that there’s not even a delusion of Maryland getting a positive play out of this.
It may only be a couple of flashes in a small sample size, but the future looks very bright for the sophomore.
Peyton Ramsey trusts Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman
Remember this play from two weeks ago?
I broke down just how crucial it was in the first edition of Peyton’s Passes, and Pat Fitzgerald said postgame that sustaining that first drive was critical in establishing momentum. That was only possible through this third down conversion to RCB.
Two games into the season, the 6-foot-2 senior receiver and official team barber has tallied a total of nine receptions and 86 receiving yards per CFB Reference, both team-high marks. While his line of four receptions for 37 yards and zero touchdowns this past Saturday against Iowa doesn’t scream “difference maker”, he again served as one of Ramsey’s two targets of choice when the team needed a third down conversion.
You can’t see the exact route RCB runs on the game broadcast, but it appears he runs about 11 yards past the line scrimmage and cuts hard toward the middle, before pivoting back out to the right of Ramsey’s line of sight.
The quarterback makes a great pass here, moving out of the pocket in timely fashion, but not with a pre-determined mind that he has to scramble. The Hawkeye defender comes after him, Ramsey gathers himself, and dimes up RCB for the first down that kept the momentum-swinging drive alive.
Iowa had pretty good coverage across the board. Rewatch and you’ll see that both Kyric McGowan and John Raine get virtually zero separation on their crossing routes — a concept that Northwestern worked successfully against Maryland.
But that’s how you win big games — you make good plays even when the opponent does just about everything right. On the two biggest plays of each game thus far (given the Maryland game was never really in doubt), Ramsey looked RCB’s way despite tight coverage from the secondary.
After recording only 25 receptions and fewer than 500 total yards in first three years of Evanston, RCB has established a connection with his quarterback who sees him as “the guy” to target, and should be poised for a breakout year.
The Kyric McGowan zombie walk
My hope is that you read this column each week in order to get some hard-hitting, X’s and O’s analysis about your favorite team. I think it’s something we need more of in sports coverage.
That said, we need to talk about Kyric McGowan’s touchdown celebration, which did not get nearly enough praise on Saturday.
Justin Fields does that dance and it’s plastered over Instagram for days on end. To be fair, the aesthetic pleasure of McGowan’s celly was neutralized by some shoddy camera work and unfortunate positioning from the down marker, but I retain my right to be upset.
How often do you get a holiday-topical touchdown dance in a college football game? That’s comedic genius right there. McGowan’s full commitment makes it even better, extending both his arms and keeping them there even after being bumped off his starting point by his teammates. Not to mention, all-white uniforms from Northwestern gave off a zombie/Halloween monster vibe.